DEFCON 4: A Midterm and “An Ode to Mr. Mainstream”

“DEFCON 4: A Midterm”

64727_10201711593896861_1112799906_nIt’s been over two months since you last heard from me so I guess I have some explaining to do because the blog life, as I have discovered, is not for me. Now that the mid-point of the year is safely behind us I can update you with assured confidence that this entire project is tearing at the seams because we are in the 208th day of 2015 and I have only seen 149 movies I had never seen before. That is 59 movies behind the goal that I set for myself on January 1st, but I’m not back to complain or come up with excuses as to why things have turned out this way because that is just not for me.

This year has been an experiment to see how a 365-day dedication to an interest, hobby, and obsession of mine would affect how much I love it in the end and perhaps help me understand if the craft is something that I could pursue in my professional life. I am confident in saying that results have begun to reveal themselves, although they haven’t been exactly what I was expecting.

Of course, I still love movies. What has prevented me from trucking through this assignment are the delays I’ve had catching up with the likes of Star Wars and such films that I’ve seen so many times that estimation is pointless. But what I’ve come to understand from this has is how much I appreciate what is familiar to me. I’ve reminded myself where my influences as a hopeful writer come from and I’ll always know where to go when I find myself in an emotional or psychological slump because while I have been continuously watching movies that clam up my free time, I have also come to understand why it is I enjoy the activities that used to fill the same time slot. And instead of chambering these feelings and forcing myself to commit, I’ve accepted them and told myself everyday for the last 206 days, “I’ll just watch two movies tomorrow.”

And this is why I’m beginning to understand that although I still love movies and will continue to indulge this interest, there are other forms of art and writing that I enjoy just as much. Which is why instead of working on this blog I’ve finally gotten around to initiating ideas that have been stuck in my head for the past two or three years. I have found alternate forms of indulgence that I’ve taken part in and perhaps found forms of writing and possibilities that could create new futures for myself (and even produce future blogs that might interest me more).

But I’m not saying I’m giving up. I haven’t accepted failure yet, I have just now understood what it means to accept and nurture what makes me happy in life and roll with it instead of creating pressures and goals that will only harm what I accomplish. I believe there is still hope as I continue and perhaps one day I’ll have a 57-movie marathon to catch myself up with this ridiculous task.

“An Ode to Mr. Mainstream”

So as promised, I am back with the third installment to my devoted scribblings dedicated to blockbusters, franchises, and everything fun that can still be found in this scrambled business of movies.

Now I feel it is time to pay tribute to a man that has dedicated the last 14,600 days to movies and who practically invented the summer blockbuster. He has given us a collection of films that are not only pleasing to the eyes and ears but also to the mind and soul for all ages. He has shot movies from black-and-white to color, from PG to R, with protagonist’s young and old and with violence and love. This man is, of course, Steven Spielberg.

Before I begin, let me take a moment to address the criticisms he commonly receives and to talk to the film nerds who pass off Spielberg for his business in the mainstream, as a poster boy of Hollywood, and for a filmography that has grown so enormous that it inevitably holds a few meant to be forgotten. You may also subscribe to the belief that he is “overly sentimental” and forget works like Schindler’s List, The Color Purple, Amistad, and Munich. Or maybe you’ve forgotten what it was like to experience wonder and excitement in the movies, when action movies used to be fun, before they became dark, gritty, overexposed with violence, and contain roided up heroes. Or even what it was like to see something you’ve never seen before.

In this day and age, as distribution methods are advancing and independent movies are growing in numbers, big hitters like Spielberg have become almost unnecessary and newer, mostly younger and obscure directors are running with the baton. Sure it might not be as fun to discuss his design with your friends as say, Wes Anderson or Joe Swanberg, but for a director who is known more for his work in the cineplex than the art house it’s difficult to come across another filmmaker who explicitally proves through his work to share an enormous passion for his influences and contemporaries alike, and who incorporates an expansive knowledge of film and world history to give us the most sincere performances of mystifying and actual events that no other director has accomplished.

Jaws (1975) – Shot 1

Shot 2

What I’m here to prove is that Spielberg has
exceptionality in his craft to give you art that utilizes techniques passed down from directors of another age but blends them into a narrative that was designed to be experienced with a bucket of popcorn. In Jaws, the suspense it has become famous for may be attributed in some instances to an editing technique known as montage that calls back to Russian film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein. It involves cut placements that reduces the action physically seen on camera but still allows the audience to construct the movements or narrative themselves. An example of this can be seen during a scene as Robert Shaw’s Quinn must apply his hatchet to the rope that connects the shark to his boat. In two shots, Quinn is seen popping up into the frame with a raised hatchet and in the next shot the rope is snapped. The unnecessary fluid motion of the hatchet coming down both waists time in the heat of the moment and is, not to mention, much more simple to film.


Munich (2005)

Since this major debut as a serious filmmaker, he went on to pay homage to B-movie serials with Raiders of the Lost Ark to spawn the Indiana Jones trilogy he’s probably become most famous for. His quoted inspiration of the film was to make “something he grew up on”, listing Spy Smasher (1942) among an assortment of other hero flicks.

No citation needed

But getting further into his collection of period pieces like Empire of the Sun, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Munich, and Lincoln, his historical accuracy has become something to be applauded and he received a Best Director nomination for all but Empire (but Christian Bale sure was cute). Since 1993 he has worked with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski who was brought onto Schindler’s List to tackle the haunting black and white imagery of the Holocaust. Here they used documentary style techniques to halt the narrative and capture the realism and pain of the event, which was so effective that they then echoed it most notably in the opening D-Day sequence of Saving Private Ryan, for which they both received Academy Awards once again. They’ve continued to make period pieces since, but in Munich their recreation of the massacre at the 1972 Olympics is something special to be noted, as it was played out in conjunction with archival news footage, such as, framing the famous shot of the Palestinian kidnapper overlooking the balcony on the TV within his own recreation of the moment. It lead to Spielberg being nominated once again, although he didn’t win.

It’s an eye like this that has allowed him to create some of the most iconic images in film history, such as E.T flying the silhouetted bicycle across the moon or the shadow of the man with the fedora hat. He has been the leading director in creating wondrous and unbelievable moments that are impossible to forget and have been engrained into our culture, and he emphasizes them with a recurring technique coined as the “Spielberg Face”, which includes a tracking close-up on a characters face and holding it as the scene unfolds off camera.

“The Spielberg Face” Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)


E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)

What allows these moments to be memorable is the absolute dedication he has for his protagonists, and delegating importance to the scenes unfolding for his characters. In his earlier work, this often resulted in his antagonists being undefined or unrevealed,
which actually became a beauty in his work. From this he added another method to create suspense as well as room for the protagonist and supporting cast to interact and grow with each other, free of repression. Most notable example of this is again in Jaws, as the shark makes a slow reveal throughout the picture from a shadow and a brush against a skinny dipper’s leg, to a finale that reveals it’s massive, empty dark eyes, and the blood and matter of it’s innards. The same slow reveal was used again with the T-Rex and raptors in Jurassic Park, and to add, this introduction gave us the first look at the pinnacle of CGI and animatronic achievement.  There is also room to point out  E.T: The Extra Terrestrial in which the antagonist appears only to be a “man with keys on his belt” for the majority of the film.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

So the questions become, how does Spielberg maintain relevancy in a culture where the mainstream is no longer “cool”? Will he be still be able to live up to the work he did in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s? Will he be remembered as a skillful and influential director or the man who invented the summer blockbuster and knew how to sell a movie ticket? These answers are obviously unanswerable, but he’s 68 years old and  is set to direct two more movies in the coming years, attached to several others, and has a chance to follow up his Best Director nomination of Lincoln this year with Bridge of Spies, which is set to release in October. But I believe that he will be able to answer all those questions positively by not doing a damn thing differently, because now that he is no longer in the spotlight his work can be appreciated for what it truly is, and this is of course, art.

Like I said, of course there are a few Spielberg movies meant to be forgotten in his 55 director credited films, so without further ado …

TOP 5 Spielberg Moments We Should All Just Forget And Live Our Lives In Blissful Ignorance

  1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skill – “Nuking the Fridge”
  2. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – All of Kate Capshaw’s scenes
  3. The Terminal – I don’t know, inventing the country of Krakozhia? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it and all I remember of it is that it’s very forgettable.

To be honest, I’m having trouble with this one. I’m looking through his filmography and some might be better than others but there’s nothing really terrible on it. By the way, did you know that he wrote The Goonies and Poltergeist? Because I didn’t. So let’s us just forget those three things and be done with it.

Thanks for reading this week, I’ve hope you’ve stuck around to the end. Now it’s your turn to disagree with me. Post your Top 5 in a comment and engage in discussion here or on Facebook.

CUE: a John Williams score


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